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Ury House

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Ury House -- 1910
Thirty years ago [1910] Ury house was fashionably gay. There were frequent receptions to the four then-debutante daughters of the late Joseph Ury Crawford, one of Pennsylvania Railroad's top engineers and builder of the first railroad in northern Japan.
A constant stream of visitors made the 23 rooms echo with life, and the likenesses in oil of genteel ancestors in raftered Swedes' Hall and elsewhere smiled fondly down upon them all.
Manning Smith, "Sisters in Historic Mansion Hold Off Invaders" (Philadelphia Record, 1940.01.29.


Ury House -- 1912
1 March 1912
Col. Jos. U. Crawford of the Pennsylvania R.R. Decorated by the Japanese Emperor


The whole ground floor of the original building is now the dining room. Tremendously thick walls convince the the beholder that they might have successfully withstood the battering of far more formidable engines of assult than were likely to have been used against them. For the sake of greater height and ventilation, the low-raftered ceiling of the dining-room was raised at one of the many stages of alteration, the upper part, of course, being corporated with the rest of the bedrooms on the second floor. The work of the Swedes has been spoken of as a square tower built of stone hard by. According to tradition preserved in print by a neighborhood writer, the
tower consisted of a curious cellar, approach by solid stone steps, leading to a door of wrought iron, supported on either side of tremendous stone drillings. Over the cellar was a square room from which a steep staircase led to another, and over it, with sloping roofs, and reached by a very rickety ladder, was a garret.
In the cellar was also a great fireplace with a contrivance evidently designed for melting lead and moulding bullets.
At each successive of the upward and outward growth since Colonial days, the original lines have become more and more obliterated, so that from the outside it is well-nigh impossible to distinguish one portion from another and assign to each its proper period, especially as the whole building has been stoccoed and the colour freshened now and again. It is very nearly as difficult inside as it is outside to tell which is which, because of the changes dictated on various occasions by the exigencies of the owners. These many alterations have given a refreshing irregularity, and upstairs the inequality of levels keeps one constantly on the lookout to avoid going on his nose as he dodges around unexpected corners and takes first one step up and then perhaps two down, threading his way through perplexing passages. The entrance, under a square-pillared portico, through a wide doorway into a low-ceilinged hall, marks the meeting point of the oldest portion of the house with the eighteenth-century addition to the west.
Immediately around the house venerable shade trees spread their branches, while the approach from the road is through a long straight avenue of lofty pines, planted more than a century ago. Southeast of the house and sheltered by it from the sweep of the northwest winds, is the garden, enclosed by a high, thick box hedge. A box-edged walk shaded by a grape-covered trellis runs the entire length of the garden from east to west and divides it into equal sections. The northern half is laid out in geometrically shaped flower beds, bordered with box and separated by narrow gravel paths. The box is so old and so luxuriant, and has grown so far beyond its original limits, that the flower garden might more fitingly be called the box garden. Looking in from outside, the labyrinth of squares, circles, and intersecting diagonals seems almost a solid expance of glossy green studded with patches of gay-coloured bloom. Only tall flowers like phlox and larkspurs and hollyhocks can lift their heads high enough to show to advantage, but for the pleasure of such glorious box one is willing to forego many flowers which, after all, they can have elsewhere. The boxwood of Ury was a source of just pride to its owners in Colonial times, and a century and a half of growth has not lessened the esteem in which it is helf. South of the trellised walk is the kitchen garden divided into plots by borders of box.

Beyond the garden, and a little way down a gentle slope, is the barn, a great stone structure with ample room to hold all the crops of the hundred or more acres of farmland belonging to Ury. It is said that in old times the barn was connected with the cellar of the house by a secret vaulted stone passage. What appears to have been a doorway in the cellar wall has been blocked up with masonry for many years, and the present generation can say nothing with certainty about the existence of the passage. The doorway may simply have led into a cave for roots or a wine cellar, such as are frequently to be found in the subterranean regions of old houses and which imaginative people are prone to believe the beginning of secret tunnels. The story goes, however, that there really is a passage and that, when it was last opened, there was found in it the skeleton of a man, presumably one of the soldiers imprisoned in the barn at one time during the Revolutionary War, and either thrust in there with foul intent ot else overcome by death while trying to escape from his captors.
Harold Donaldson Eberlein and Horace Mather Lippincott, The Colonial Homes of Philadelphia and Its Neighborhoods (1912), pp. 314-16.

They recalled with pleasure the gay entertaining at Ury 33 years ago [1912] when they were presented to society as "Assembly debutantes" by their parents, the late Capt. Joseph U. Crawford and Mrs. Crawford, the former Harriet Henriques.
Capt. Crawford, who had enlisted with the Washington Grays, 17th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, at the opening of the Civil War, became interested in railroad engineering at the close of the conflict. He built the first railroad in Northern Japan. Before his death he had become one of the top engineers of the Pennsy.
Rex Rittenhouse, "Ury House Guest Was Victim of Jittery Maid" (Philadelphia: The Evening Bulletin, 1945.10.21).

Ury House -- 1924
1924.11.23
The Philadelphia Inquirer
CRAWFORD - Nov. 21,
JOSEPH URY CRAWFORD, son of late Stephen Rowan and Jane Crawford. Born at Ury House, Fox Chase, Aug. 25, 1842. Died at Ury House, Fox Chase, Fri., Nov. 21, 1924. Services at Ury House, Mon., 11 A.M. Int. private.


Ury House -- 1926
1926.07.01
The Evening Bulletin
FOX CHASE HOMESTEAD SOLD
Tract Once Swedish Trading Post--Dwelling Brings $40,000
A fifty-acre tract at Strahle St. and Verree Road, Fox Chase, has been sold by Harriet C. Crawford to an undisclosed purchaser. The tract is part of the estate well known as "Ury," which has been in the hands of the Crawford family for many years. The site of the present house was once a Swedish trading post.

1926.10.22
Evening Public Ledger
HISTORIC ESTATE SOLD
Fox Chase Property, Owned by Crawford Family, Changes Hands
Announcement is made of the sale of forty-two acres of "Ury," the Crawford estate on Verree Road, Foxchase. The purchase was made by Thad S. Krause from Harriet C. Crawford.
The land is a part of the 80-acre estate in the Crawford family for more than 100 years [sic]. The mansion was erected on the site of the old Swedish trading post founded there in 1685 [sic]. The Susquehanna Road, planned by William Penn's surveyors as a great highway between the Susquehanna and Delaware Rivers, was to have passed through the estate.


Ury House -- 1936
Ury House
Ury House represents three centuries of growth and development in building. It began life in 1645 or thereabouts. As the legend goes, some Swedes coming out by sailing vessel from the Mother Country, to join fellow countrymen in the New World, passed their original destination, the Delaware settlement in the night and continued up the Delaware River as far as the mouth of the Penny Pack Creek. Here they separated into parties to hunt for the Delaware Colony. One group paddled up the Penny Pack Creek and camped on the ridge beyond Verreeville. Here they built the old Swedish Fortress, which became the heart of the present Ury House, with its thick stone walls (they had to use dynamite when changes were made in Ury House in 1900), low ceilings, a forge in the cellar, a bake oven set in the kitchen wall and sleeping quarters and attic above. To this Swedish Fortress the original settlers came from their surrounding cabins to bake their bread, weld their farming implements and mold their leaden bullets. It offered refuge too, when the need arose from their marauding and none too friendly neighbors, the Indians. An iron fire back found in the old Swedes Hall, bearing the coat of arms of their king, Gustvus Adolphus of Sweden, fixes a date somewhere in the sixteen forties for the Swedish portion of the house. The first addition to the old Swedish Fort was made in 1728, and a fire back (there is one like it bearing the same date in the Stenton Mansion!) set in the wall over the mantel shelf in the rafftered hall, marks the addition of three spacious rooms, one above the other, with fire place and chimney, at the west side of old Swedes Hall. It was so very low, by the way, that Uncle Charley Jones, six foot four inches, to be sure, could with great ease, reach up and scratch his nose on the ceiling.
We know little further about these original settlers than that they were Swedes who came to join their Countrymen in this New Sweden so called until 1682 when William Penn arrived from England with his grant from Charles II and founded the Quaker Colony of Pennsylvania as a haven in the New World for the persecuted Society of Friends. The Quakers resolved to treat the Indians with perfect equality and to live, as their religion demanded, in accordance with the Spirit of the Gospel, and of its joyous tidings at the birth of Christ of "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will among men" suggested Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, as the name for its Capital City. One of the leaders of the Society of Friends, Miers Fisher, purchased the old Swedes Hall and its surrounding tract of one hundred acres for his home early in the seventeen eighties. He named the place Ury after the home in Scotland of Robert Barclay, the famous Quaker Theologian and author of the Standard Work on Quaker Doctrine the "Apology for the True Christian Divinity". Miers Fisher built the parlors on the West side of the house and made extensive alterations and additions to Ury House and did much besides to improve the exterior of the house and unify the three distinct sections. To give uniformity of appearance to the facade, with its two original three story buildings on the East and center and its two story drawing room addition windows at the West of the entrance hall. These windows were the occasion of much merriment and many witticisms based on the absence of window glass, and the wags expressed constant surprise that a man so famous for his hospitality as Miers Fisher, should greet his guests with Champagne and no glasses. Miers Fisher planted the famous double avenue of white pines leading to the house, of which traces still remain, laid out the six square Colonial Box Gardens at the East of the house, and did much to make "Ury" the well appointed home of the Country Gentleman of the day. It was Miers Fisher's pleasure to receive and entertain at "Ury" the leading men and scientists of Philadelphia, at that time the Capital of the Federal States. Among these, Thomas Jefferson came to "Ury" and planted the famous pecan tree on the back lawn, blown down by a winter's storm as recently as 1928. Audubon, the Ornithologist and Author of "Birds of America", spent many months at "Ury" in the early eighteen hundreds, in order that he might consult with Moore, the Ornithologist of this region, a queer old man who lived in a log house over looking the Penny Pack Creek, just east of Pine Road and gave his life to study of the habits and customs of his neighbors--the birds.
In 1841 Stephen Rowen Crawford, the grandfather of present owner, purchased Ury House and farm and made further extensive changes in the house and grounds, and "Ury" continued to be the rendezvous for distinguished people of Philadelphia. Mrs. Crawford relates that during her first summer at "Ury" she was startled one day when a wonderful one horse shay drew up at the front door and out stepped a dear old lady in hoops and asked to be permitted to see again the old rafftered hall where George Washington had dined. She was a young girl at the time and had waited on the "General". It was early in June when strawberries from the garden were at their best. Unfortunately, however, in the excitement over their distinguished guest, they served salt on the strawberries instead of sugar. There is corroboration for this tale in the "Washington Table", which the late Mr. Samuel Parrish of New York, a great grandson of Miers Fisher, has preserved as a relic of Ury House, in his Museum at Southampton Long Island.
To meet the demands of growing families and a Boys Boarding School carried on by Mrs. Crawford from 1860 to 1881, at "Ury", rooms have been added and removed at Ury House during the past ninety years, and in the grounds various blights have carried off, first the cedar trees and then the chestnuts and are now threatening the elms. But in spite of the fact that within the past fifty years, with more regard for comfort than for history, the ceilings of the old Swedes Hall have been raised and the sham windows removed from the front facade, the walls are still the same at Ury House, as the winding passages within the house attest--and the many twists and turns and up and down flights of steps and windows looking out, not into the world, but into another room, give evidence of three centuries in the growth and development of the Ury House of today.
H. Jean Crawford, "Ury House" (Philadelphia: Historical Society of Frankford, 1936.11.27).

Ury House -- 1940
Cosily around the radio in one of the five heated rooms in their 23-room mansion sit the four Crawford sisters, dreaming of the past glory of Ury House.
Up to the border of the 62-acre estate in Fox Chase crowd little row houses. To the doors of the obstructing mansion come suave speculators, sympathetic "developers," all the high-pressure real estate promoters.
Smiling, but firm, the sisters to each say:
"No."
"We prefer to sell," explains Miss Jean Crawford, "to one who knows how to live in this house as it should be lived in, like a gentleman."
They'll put no ax to Ury House." declares Miss Jessie. And Miss Sarita and Miss Alice nod in agreement. The door closes again, the sisters retire to their heated rooms, and their memories.
Today a gracious mellowness still prevades the rambling, pillared house, but not age. Ury House carries its age lightly.
Small wonder the Crawford sisters are family-proud and house-proud. In a city of historic homes, Ury House holds up its head with the noblest.
The Crawfords revel in the story [of Ury House's Swedish origins]. Miss Jean, fine featured, dark and comfortable in her wine-red woolen dress, is the most positive of the sisters. She usually is spokesman, although Miss Jessie may be persuaded to talk in the older sister's absence.
They especially glow over the period beginning 1774 [sic], when a somewhat more civilized, and certainly more scintillating era, dawned for the old blockhouse. In that year it was rebuilt by Miers Fisher...
Nowadays there is little entertaining at Ury House.
"I can assure you," said the less-cautious Miss Jessie, "that this is not a comfortable winter home."
"It just isn't right that there aren't more people here."
And on second thought she added, "Our life is really very sheltered."
Miss Jean ushered us through the magnificent old rooms and pointed out the various oil portraits of ancestors. Under such auspices it would not be nice to speak of the cost of coal--but she did admit:
"It would take more than 100 tons of coal to keep both furnaces going. And, of course, everybody knows the taxes on real estate within the city limits are simply outrageous."
The sisters operate only one of the heaters, and during the discussion of taxes and ancestors you could easily see gusts of breath in the cold rooms--but you could not write your name on the mahogony tables.
The Crawford sisters are practical in their pride and work over their home without help of servants. There is only one caretaker and his wife to look after the grounds.
"A man needn't have a great deal of money to make this a comfortable home." Miss Jean pointed out. "A few new curtains..."
And some coal, we thought, as we buttoned our overcoat at the neck.
Of the persent Crawford family there were nine--five sisters and four brothers. One sister died, the brothers married and moved away. Misses Jean and Jessie, Sarita and Alice are staying on--indifinitely. One handsome brother, Henriques, won the Croix de Guerre during the war as a lieutenant in the Air Corps. He is in Chicago. Another brother, Joseph, is vice-president of a small railroad with its terminus in Nashville.
Yes, you may buy the place--for $100,000. But difinitely the sisters would not like to see Ury House torn down to make room for $6000 model homes.
Manning Smith, "Sisters in Historic Mansion Hold Off Invaders" (Philadelphia Record, 1940.01.29.

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